Foreshadowing can be a powerful tool, and I’m not even just talking about “little did he know.” (Stranger Than Fiction anyone? lol) There is the obvious foreshadowing that is thrown in the reader’s face to intentionally cause suspense, anticipation, and make the fulfillment more climactic.
But then there is another form of foreshadowing. It is the subtle planting of seeds that will eventually grow into plants. These are the moments that seem like everyday coincidences or trivial details, but they give the reader a foothold to understand the plot development or character journey. Over the last two years I have discovered their power and been learning to wield it. I see it like priming a canvas. The first layer appears subtle and pointless at times, but it gives depth and quality to the painting.
One of the biggest areas of growth for me has been with characters. I used to add characters with carefree abandonment. After all, aren’t there 7 billion people in the world? In real life you have dozens of people come in and out of your life, even in the span of a year: family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances. And yes, that can be distracting for a reader. But what I really found was that if they weren’t memorable and had no purpose they simply faded. That’s what happens in real life too isn’t it? How many of you can name your classmates from sixth grade? I found that a quick way to give characters more unction was to combine them.
Now, this isn’t necessarily considered foreshadowing. I guess I am just talking generally about things (whether themes, characters, or events) that recur in your novel. Some of it is foreshadowing and some of it is just good plot structure. However. I got so excited about weaving these intricate connections that I forgot that sometimes it is good to not have them.
Now, some people like to just blindside their reader by pulling things out of left field at the last minute. Yes, it can make for a big shocking reveal and all, but I’m not a big fan of that. As authors we have a remarkable amount of power. We decide how much information the reader will receive, and I think it’s a bit unfair to purposely hide important information and then pummel them on the head with it. I’m thinking of “Ocean’s 12.” As a viewer, I wanted to be part of the team’s plan and to help figure it out, but they were withholding information. At the grand reveal at the end I felt cheated.
My point is this: you should give your reader clues to help figure out your climax. But that doesn’t mean you have to give them everything. There are times when you should bring in surprises–as long as they fit well within the circumstances and characters you have established.
In other words, put some things in there for your reader to guess (they will feel like they are part of the process) and put in some things that your reader would never have guessed (because they do like to be surprised sometimes).
For example, I recently strengthened a character’s involvement in the climax. Up until this point the character had been marginalized. Their existence was well known to the reader and even vital to plot progression, but they weren’t taking part in much of the action. Weaving them into the climax in their own way made perfect sense, but would catch the reader off guard. I considered going back and adding more scenes for this character, putting in more background and foreshadowing. But I realized that I didn’t have to. My narration is mostly third person limited-omniscient. Although I throw in outside scenes to flesh out characters and give the reader more information, the story is still very much centered on my protagonist and how she witnesses events and reacts to them. That being said, I thought it was even more fitting to let the reader experience the surprise alongside of the protagonist.